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Nathan Joseph Reigle v. Ralph Reish

September 30, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane


This civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was commenced by Nathan Joseph Reigle ("Reigle") in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on September 2, 2009. At the time, Reigle was an inmate confined at the State Correctional Institution at Chester, Pennsylvania, and proceeded pro se. The case was transferred to this Court on January 7, 2011. While pending in the Eastern District, counsel was appointed and Reigle was granted leave to file an amended complaint. The amended complaint raises claims under the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments against employees at the Northumberland County Prison ("NCP") during Reigle's confinement there. These Defendants are as follows: Ralph Reish, Warden; Mary Jo Christiano, Mental Health Counselor; Dr. Hynick; Nurse Patty and Lieutenant James Smink. Presently pending are motions to dismiss the amended complaint filed by Defendant Hynick (Doc. No. 31) and Defendants Reish, Christiano and Smink (Doc. No. 40). For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

Procedural History On September 2, 2009, Reigle submitted his § 1983 complaint along with an application to proceed in forma pauperis ("ifp") in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Both documents were signed and dated August 24, 2009. The Eastern District Clerk of Court stamped the complaint as "Received Sep 02 2009," but only docketed the ifp application on said date. (Doc. No. 1.) The ifp application was thereafter denied without prejudice on October 6, 2009, and Reigle directed to submit proper ifp documents. (Doc. No. 2.) On November 30, 2009, Reigle's ifp application was approved, and the Clerk of Court was directed to docket Reigle's previously submitted complaint. (Doc. No. 4.) The United States Marshal was directed to serve the complaint. Named as Defendants were the following NCP employees: Ralph Reish, Warden; Mary Jo Christiano, Mental Health Counselor; Dr. Hynick, D.O.; Lieutenant Smink; Sergeant Tim Zorbe; Brian Whery, Security Officer; Shane Hoffman, Maintenance Officer; and Jane Doe Nurses I and II. (Doc. 5.)

In the original complaint, Reigle alleged that while confined at NCP from January 12, 2007 through August 28, 2007, he was denied treatment for his medical, dental and psychiatric conditions including MRSA, scabies, an abscessed tooth, severe depression, anxiety disorder and suicidal traits. He also claimed that he was subjected to retaliation on several occasions for contacting an attorney about these issues. The retaliation included being placed in medical administrative custody for 51 days without any medical care, being placed in a cell for 7 days without running water and with unsanitary conditions, the destruction of property and assault. Reigle further alleges that when he was confined at NCP on a second occasion beginning on April 15, 2008, he was again denied medical treatment for his mental issues through the time he was transferred to a state correctional institution in June of 2008.

Following the appointment of counsel on July 12, 2010, the Eastern District Court granted Reigle leave to file an amended complaint in this action. (Doc. Nos. 8, 11.) On September 7, 2010, an amended complaint was filed naming the following five (5) original Defendants: Reish, Christiano, Hynick, Smink and "Nurse Patty." (Doc. No. 14.) On January 7, 2011, the Eastern District granted an uncontested motion to transfer the matter to this Court on the basis of improper venue. (Doc. No. 28.) Pending are motions to dismiss the amended complaint filed by Defendant Hynick (Doc. No. 31) and Defendants Christiano, Reish and Smink (Doc. No. 40).*fn1 The motions are fully briefed.

Allegations in Amended Complaint

A. Psychiatric Condition

Reigle states that he was first incarcerated at NCP from January 12, 2007 through August 28, 2007. Following his release, he was again confined there from April 15, 2008 until June of 2008, following a violation of parole. Reigle states that he suffers from conditions including severe depression, anxiety, panic attacks and suicidal ideations. Between 1995 and his initial confinement at NCP in 2007, he states he received in-patient treatment nine (9) times and was treated by Dr. Miller, who prescribed medications including Wellbutrin and Xanax.

Upon his arrival at NCP on January 12, 2007, Reigle informed Defendant Hynick of his condition and medications, but alleges Hynick refused to treat him in any manner. Reigle thereafter requested Miller to fax his medical information to Hynick, and believes he did so. When Reigle attempted to discuss the matter with Hynick, Nurse Patty would not allow it. Eventually Reigle was able to speak with Hynick, but he still refused to provide him with treatment for his psychiatric condition.

Reigle approached Defendant Christiano about Hynick's behavior and his need for medical care. Christiano initially ignored him, but later told Reigle he would need to obtain approval from Warden Reish. As a result, Reigle sent written requests to Reish detailing his psychiatric condition and treatment and Hynick's refusal to provide treatment. Although he requested Reish's help, Reigle received no response to his requests. Reigle also claims that Reish placed him in Medical Administrative Holding for 51 days where he received no medication whatsoever in retaliation for submitting repeated requests for medical care.

Due to the lack of medical treatment received and the abrupt discontinuation of his medications, Reigle claims his condition worsened and he suffered withdrawal in the form of seizures and nausea. After being confined at NCP for three months under these circumstances, Reigle contacted an attorney whom he believes thereafter contacted Defendant Reish. It was only at this point when Hynick finally prescribed medication to treat his psychiatric condition in the form of a low dosage of Wellbutrin. Reigle complains that the dosage was inadequate to address his condition.

On August 27, 2007, Reigle was released from NCP. Approximately 1-2 weeks later, he was admitted to the York Hospital for treatment related to a physical problem. He informed the staff of his deteriorating psychiatric condition, and was evaluated by psychiatrists who prescribed medications including Risperdal. Riegle claims that he continues to suffer from the effects of being denied all medication for 3 months while at NCP, and thereafter being provided inadequate treatment the remainder of his time there.

On April 15, 2008, Reigle was confined at NCP a second time. He claims that Hynick again refused to provide him with psychiatric treatment and care. He alleges that his outside doctor (Miller) again faxed information to Hynick with respect to his condition/medications, but Hynick refused to treat him. Nurse Patty initially refused to allow Reigle to speak with Hynick, but eventually Reigle was able to do so. Hynick again refused to provide him with treatment. Reigle filed a written request with Christiano about these issues, but Christiano refused to speak with him. Reigle also sent written requests to Warden Reish about Hynick's conduct, but Reish failed to respond. These events took place from April of 2008 until Reigle's transfer to SCI-Camp Hill in or about June of 2008.

B. Dental Care

Reigle also sets forth claims regarding the denial of dental care. Upon his first incarceration at NCP, he was suffering from an abscessed tooth. He informed Nurse Patty and Dr. Hynick that he had scheduled an appointment to treat the tooth prior to his incarceration. It is Reigle's belief that NCP has no dentist on staff, and that inmates must be placed on a waiting list to see an outside dentist. He claims that Hynick refused to allow him to see a dentist or provide dental care/treatment during the entire first period of his incarceration at NCP (1/12/07-8/28/07). Written requests to Reish informing him of the need for dental care and Hynick's refusal to provide care went unanswered. As a result, Reigle experienced extreme pain and the swelling of his face and neck.

Following his release from NCP in August of 2007, Reigle was admitted to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania, for problems related to his dental health. He does not specify the date he was admitted. He was diagnosed with cellulitis of the face. Maxillofacial surgery was performed to remove the abscessed tooth, and to repair his sinus cavity that was damaged as a result of the tooth. Reigle alleges that he still experiences sinus problems, pain in his cheek and eye, and problems with his adjacent teeth due to Defendants' denial of dental care.

C. General Medical Care

Reigle also alleges that during his first period of incarceration at NCP he contracted what he later learned was Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus ("MRSA"). According to Reigle, he had a pimple above his hair line that became extremely painful. He then began to experience symptoms including sweating, itchiness, hair, weight, appetite and energy loss, extreme fatigue, weakness and nausea. He informed Nurse Patty of these symptoms, but she refused to allow him to see Dr. Hynick. Subsequent thereto, when Reigle was able to speak with Hynick, Hynick refused to provide him with appropriate treatment. During this same time period, Reigle contracted scabies which Hynick also refused to treat. Requests sent by Reigle to Warden Reish about these matters went unanswered. An inquiry made to Reish on Reigle's behalf by an attorney also received no response.

Following his release from his first period of incarceration at NCP, Reigle was admitted to York Hospital where it was found that MRSA had infiltrated his entire body. He does not indicate the date upon which this occurred. While there, he was also treated for scabies. Reigle spent a week in the hospital. He claims that due to Defendants' actions, his life was placed at risk due to the lack of treatment at NCP.

D. Retaliation

During his first period of confinement at NCP, Reigle also alleges he was subjected to several instances of retaliation in response to his persistent complaints, and his efforts to obtain the assistance of counsel to resolve the lack of medical care. He alleges that Reish retaliated by causing him to be placed in Medical Administrative Holding for 51 days where he received no medical treatment whatsoever.*fn2 He further alleges that Defendant Smink retaliated against him by entering his cell and spraying mace into his nose while he was sleeping. Reigle also maintains that Reish and Smink caused him to be moved into a cell on July 7, 2007 for a period of one week that had no air conditioning, ventilation or running water and was covered in urine and feces. According to Reigle, this conduct took place during exceptionally hot weather and caused him to experience fatigue, nausea, dizziness and headaches. Reigle asserts that ...

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